How to Cut Back your Sugar Intake

Find out how to keep your sugar intake low and avoid health problems such as joint inflammation and heart disease

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This week, Channel 4 told the nation to take a look at their diets and asked: “are you addicted to sugar?” The Dispatches programme drew attention to the high levels of sugar found in everyday food, even seemingly healthy products. Sugar isn’t just bad for your teeth, it’s also been linked with inflammation, which can in turn lead to skin conditions, arthritis and even heart disease. Learn how to keep your sugar intake low and avoid the health problems that its effects can cause.

 Cut out the processed drinks

It’s not just fizzy drinks which can make your sugar intake unhealthily high- all kinds of squashes, smoothies and juices, up to one fifth of which might be sugar, which can drive up sugar levels as well as body fat. While some of this sugar may be fructose- the the sugar which occurs naturally in fruit, added sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are the biggest threat to health and are common in the highly processed drinks on the market.

 Limit cakes, sweets and biscuits

It’ll come as no surprise that sweet treats such as cakes, sweets and biscuits and packed with sugar, so try to cut down, especially on heavily processed baked goods. Many of these items are also highly packaged, are transported many miles and contain additives to extend their shelf lives, so be benefits of cutting back on these reach far beyond your own health.

 

If you don’t want to miss out on something sweet now and again, try one of the many recipes which use honey in substitution of sugar. Though it contains similar sugar molecules to regular table sugar, its sweetness and density allows you to use less of it. And baking your own cakes means you know exactly what other ingredients have been added, so there’s no need to worry about additives or artificial flavours.

 Be cautious of all foods

It isn’t just deserts and snacks which can increase your sugar intake. Sauces and condiments can have surprising levels of sugar hidden inside them, especially ketchup and barbeque sauce, as well as sweet oriental cooking sauces. It might be in a savoury dish, but it still counts!

 Check the label

Sugar can be disguised under a number of different names. While some may be naturally occurring sweeteners, others are highly processed sugar syrups which can have more harmful health effects. High fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, maltose, agave nectar and brown rice syrup are all sources of sugar in one way or another, no matter how “natural” the source.

 Can fruit contribute to your sugar intake?

There has been a lot of concern, particularly among dieters about the sugar content of fruit. Fruit contains fructose, a naturally-occurring sugar which, naturally, is what gives fruit its sweet flavours. Fructose is one of the key components of sucrose (table sugar) and because of this, they share many similarities, however, there is no evidence to show that fructose alone has any especially harmful effects on the body overall.

 

Fructose makes up just a small proportion of a fruit’s entire content, nowhere near the levels found in chocolate or fizzy drinks on the market. It’s also important to note that fruit contains a wide range of essential nutrients, vital for maintaining good health. Any harmful effects from fruit’s sugar content are more than negated by the high levels of vitamins and minerals, and fibre, alongside the fact that fruit can be a filling, low-calorie snack which can help reduce cravings for other, less healthy foods.

 

There is some concern surrounding the effects of fruit on the teeth, particularly the enamel. While it is true that some fruits can have a corrosive effect on the surface of the teeth, it is more likely that the acidic fruit juice causes surface damage than the fructose itself. If you are concerned about the effects of fruit on your teeth, it can be a good idea to drink a glass of water after eating, to clear your mouth of corrosive acids and sugars. Don’t brush your teeth within an hour of eating fruit as your enamel will have temporarily softened due to the fruit juice, and this can cause further damage.

 Artificial sweeteners

“Diet” or “sugar free” products can be tempting when trying to cut back on sugar. It pays to be careful though- many of these are able to label themselves as “sugar free” by using artificial sweeteners instead. Like other additives, artificial sweeteners have been linked to a number of unhealthy side effects, potentially affecting the digestion and even the nervous system. While natural sweeteners still rack up your daily sugar intake, they don’t come with the same risk as artificial ones, many of which are still being investigated for their harmful effects on the body and the planet.

Image sourced: Umberto Salvagnin

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